Matthew Hooton

The gentle art of believing nothing

I remember, quite a few years ago now, Jenny Shipley addressing a room and asking the question, “What is the purpose of the National Party?” The answer was: To defeat the Labour Party. National was there to be the party of Government. Ideology came a distant second to the simple joy of Being In Government.

Shipley’s Q&A came to mind during the election campaign, when Matthew Hooton locked horns in spectacular fashion with Michelle Boag on RadioLive (a copy of the audio has been helpfully archived here by Peter Aranyi at The Paepae). Hooton described Boag as “a hack” with “no political views”, given that Boag had steadfastly supported National throughout all of its ideological manifestations from Muldoon onwards.

Labour was established for a reason – the party name says it all. National was established as a vehicle to beat Labour.

That’s not to say that there aren’t many in National who do subscribe to a political ideology. National, like Labour, has its competing ideological factions: liberal v conservative, free market v Muldoonist intervention, pro-environment v farming lobby etc. Nonetheless, the party has a knack of re-inventing itself when political necessity demands it. For example, just six years after Muldoonism was comprehensively routed at the ballot box, National was a completely different beast, championing the free-market reforms begun under Roger Douglas. Likewise, just three years after Don Brash’s divisive Iwi/Kiwi campaign, National was in partnership with the Maori Party. The factions whose ideologies are out of favour may not be impressed at times, but they toe the line because Being In Power matters.

Labour, in contrast, is still working its way through the angst created by the party’s lurch to the right in the 1980s. During the Helen Clark years, it seemed that Labour had learned the lesson of not letting any one ideology have too free a rein, with Helen Clark doing her level best not to stray too far from the political centre. She was aided, of course, by the fact that at that time the hard-left ideologues stayed safely tucked away in the Alliance Party.  These days, many of the factions within Labour seem more interested in a splendid defeat than a victory based on a policy platform that isn’t entirely in line with their thinking.

Now the title of this post doesn’t intend to imply that National doesn’t have a political agenda, or that Labour shouldn’t have one. Rather, that each party, as an overarching  entity, shouldn’t be too wedded to a specific ideology. Political winds change, and any party that wants to succeed must tack with the wind. National’s internal factions know how to bide their time; Labour’s have been in open warfare since the demise of the Clark Government.

Can Labour’s activist base accept that some dead rats must be swallowed in order to win back power? Or will the factional infighting hand John Key and National a fourth or even fifth term?


Last Chance Saloon – John Key’s paper-thin defence of Judith Collins

When Judith Collins was initially confronted by media about the accusation in Dirty Politics that she had leaked former Labour staffer, Simon Pleasants’, name to Cameron Slater, she refused to answer questions. It was all lies, just a smear campaign.

Then she admitted that the allegation was indeed true – she’d provided Slater with Pleasants’ name and job title, as described in the book.

That changed over the weekend. Apparently Cameron Slater already had Pleasants’ name; Collins was merely providing his job title.

Now, with the gradual dumping of the original emails on Twitter by Nicky Hager’s source, we know that Collins also provided Mr Pleasants’ phone and fax numbers, including his cell phones numbers. As with the Oravida scandal-saga, it appears to be a case of waiting to see how the story changes when new information is revealed.

Nonetheless, John Key has announced this morning that he stands by Ms Collins, although her actions were “unwise”. She’s on her Last Chance, but it’s the same Last Chance as she was previously on, not a New Last Chance:

“What she’s on is on her last chance after what happened last time. But at the end of the day she’s also subjected to a left-wing smear campaign. And people will actually see that as well for what it is.”

Matthew Hooton, yesterday on Radio NZ’s Nine to Noon programme, opined that Mr Key needed to fire someone, but that Jason Ede was too far down the food chain. Given her previous behaviour over Oravida, and the final warning that flowed from that, one would have thought she’d be the ideal candidate.

Nonetheless, the script for National still seems to be one of absolute denial wherever possible. Offering up National Party scalps provides Nicky Hager and his allegations with legitimacy. Key seems intent on brazening it out till election day.

To see just how thin Key’s defence of Collins really is, you only have to listen to his Morning Report interview with Guyon Espiner, which Hooton described as Key’s worst in six years. Here’s the Judith Collins segment, with thanks to Karol at The Standard:

ESPINER:  OK. Well what about the behaviour of your minister Judith Collins?  Is it acceptable for her to divulge the name of a public servant, because he may have leaked details ?

KEY: Well I don’t have the details on that one

ESPINER: she suspected he did.

KEY: I just don’t

ESPINER: Well, why don’t you ask her?

KEY: Well because I. A: it’s very. Sorry it’s.  Look to be

ESPINER: In fact, in fact, with respect, Mr Key, she has admitted that. She conceded she did pass on that name.

KEY: Yeah, but I don’t know the details under, of all of that scenario.

ESPINER: So why don’t you ask her?

KEY: Because, at the end of the day, we’re five weeks out from an election, people can see that Nicky Hager’s made a whole lot of things up in his book. He can see that he can’t back a lot of them up.

ESPINER: Well, I’m talking about one that can be backed up. You’re not going to get away with that.

KEY: See he

ESPINER: Because, because, this is one that can be backed up, because the Justice Minister of New Zealand has conceded publicly, that she did pass on the name of a public servant.  That resulted in him getting some pretty severe death threats. And you think that’s, OK?

KEY: And people can see that


KEY: And people can see

ESPINER: Yes or no? Is it OK?

KEY:  And people can see that this


KEY: People can see

ESPINER: Is it OK that Judith Collins did that, yes or no?

KEY: And people can see that this is a smear campaign by Nicky Hager and

ESPINER: I’m not asking you for a critique about Nicky Hager’s motivation

Key: Well I

ESPINER: I’m asking you about something that is publicly in the arena. Judith Collins has said, “I passed on the name of this public servant.” And we know what happened after that.

KEY: But the

ESPINER: I’m asking you a simple question. Was that appropriate, Yes or No?

KEY: context  is totally relevant, because at the end of the day, I don’t know all the context of what happened here and in all those situations

ESPINER: You know the context here, Prime Minster. Please answer the question.

KEY: We don’t know

ESPINER: Was it appropriate for your Justice Minister to pass on the name of a public servant doing his job, who was then severely sanctioned on a website?

KEY: So, I don’t know all the details behind all of that. But what I do know, is that this is a series of selected pieces of information. Many of which can’t be backed up. I know that this was

ESPINER: I’m asking you about one of them.

KEY: Yeah, well, I’m not going to go into your individual ones, because in the end, this is a smear campaign, about which, I gotta say, started the week with with people, you know, out there

ESPINER: No, I’m not, you’re not going to talk about burning effigies, etc, because it has nothing to do with this.

KEY: Well, it does [voice hits a squeaky note]

ESPINER: I’m talking No

KEY: to do with this, because, at the end of the day,

ESPINER: No. this is about the behaviour of your Justice Minister. Do you stand by her today?

KEY: Yeah [slightly squeaky voice] I stand by her. And in the end, it does have a lot to with it, because we started the week with burning effigies. Then we went into, into, sorry, FU videos. Then we went into into burning effigies, then we went into Bill

ESPINER: OK, we’re not going to traverse the whole history.  Here’s a final question for you.

Key’s farcical “Don’t ask, don’t tell” routine

John Key is sticking to his defensive strategy: deny everything, label Hager’s book a smear campaign, and – when pressed on specific allegations – say he doesn’t know the details. There is of course a very easy way for Mr Key to become acquainted with the details, which he doesn’t seem keen to do, and that’s to simply ask the right people.

For instance, there’s the issue of how classified SIS documents were suddenly declassified and released at break-neck speed to Cameron Slater, following his OIA request. Now, according to John Key this morning on Radio NZ’s Morning Report, Key had no knowledge that the SIS had released the documents. That’s despite Key being the Minister responsible for the SIS. And that’s despite there being some considerable political interest in the contents of the documents – after all, they made Phil Goff look like a fool, a liar or a lying fool, depending on your political allegiance.

Matthew Hooton, on Nine to Noon this morning, made the point that it is “preposterous” that Warren Tucker, as director of the SIS, would release such politically sensitive documents without first alerting the Minister, John Key. Under the ‘no surprises’ rule, I’d count releasing documents showing the leader of the opposition misled the public (whether accidentally or otherwise) as a bit of a surprise.

Nonetheless, John Key says he didn’t know, which means (taking him at his word) that either Mr Tucker made this unilateral decision or that Mr Tucker received a thumbs up from someone in Mr Key’s office who then didn’t pass that information on to Key.

So surely, all Mr Key needs to do, to clear everything up, is to ask Mr Tucker what precisely happened. Was the decision to declassify and release purely that of Mr Tucker’s? If so, why? And if Mr Tucker said he had in fact briefed someone in the Prime Minister’s office, who was that person?

Then there’s the issue of Judith Collins, and what she may or may not have leaked to Cameron Slater. Mr Key says he can’t really comment on any of that as he hasn’t asked Ms Collins about it. Nonetheless, there’s a serious allegation that Mr Hager has made. Hager alleges Collins leaked the Bronwyn Pullar letter to Slater. Collins is on record, both inside and out of the House, completely denying that she or her office had anything to do with the leak. If Hager is correct, Collins lied to Parliament and the New Zealand public. Surely that’s something Mr Key would at least want to ask Ms Collins personally?

Or the five word email by Ms Collins to Cameron Slater, in which she provides the name and title of Simon Pleasants, a former Labour staffer, who is promptly, viciously and wrongly smeared by Slater. Collins refuses to say what her email was in response to, and John Key says he has no idea either. Well, all he has to do is ask Collins what question from Cameron Slater she was replying to.

And then there’s the issue of the National Party staff member who downloaded the Labour Party’s database. John Key has confirmed that Jason Ede definitely accessed the database. He’s said, “Jason became aware of that [that Labour’s database was open to the public], and he did go and have a look”. But there’s no confirmation that Ede downloaded the database. Given that Ede still works for the National Party, one would think it should be a relatively simple matter for Key’s office to ask Ede exactly what he did or didn’t do.

Or the other National Party IP address that accessed the database? Peter Goodfellow, the Party President, has confirmed that another staff member rummaged around – just to check that National’s security wasn’t that bad, don’t you know? Who was that staff member and what, if anything, did they download? Mr Goodfellow already seems to know a great deal on the subject, so it shouldn’t be a great inconvenience to Key to call up the President and swap notes…

Those are just a selection of the questions to which Mr Key could presumably get quite easy answers, should he so desire. I could keep going, but you surely get the point.

This is cynical politics from Mr Key, and it’s an utter farce. He and National want the story to die down, so Key is steering well clear of specifics. If he doesn’t ask, he doesn’t know. And if he doesn’t know, he can’t answer the media’s questions. Everything peters out, and the media finally get around to reporting on policy.

However, Mr Key has, I believe, miscalculated badly. The media aren’t going to simply give up on this. The number of very specific questions that need answering are too many. The number of grubby little dots that need joining won’t suddenly disappear. And with Mr Hager’s alleged source beginning a piece by piece dump of the original emails via the @whaledump Twitter address, the journalistic interest will definitely not die.

Whether the wider public gives a damn is of course a different story. The four people with whom I raised it at Court this morning simply rolled their eyes and muttered derogatory comments about Nicky Hager. And these are intelligent, well-read people who I would generally respect.

John Key is perhaps hoping that the public don’t care now, and as long as nothing definitive comes out to link Key directly to the scandal, the public will continue to not care. Time will tell whether he’s right…

Dirty Politics – sunlight is the best disinfectant

Well, there’s only one political story today – Nicky Hager’s new book, Dirty Politics: How attack politics is poisoning New Zealand’s political environment. And it’ll likely be the only political story for a wee while yet, as journalists digest the full range of allegations and try and pin John Key down on what he knew about what his office was up to.

I haven’t yet read Dirty Politics (although it’s definitely on my reading list, once I obtain a copy). I only know what’s been reported and debated online. (For a useful synopsis, check out Danyl Mclauchlan’s post at The Dim-Post.

There are a few allegations that seem to have captured the attention of the commentariat:

  • That Cameron Slater and Jason Ede accessed the Labour Party’s computers in 2011, in the lead-up to the election.
  • That the Prime Minister’s office, through Jason Ede, used classified SIS documents to damage a political enemy, Phil Goff, by de-classifying them and telling Cameron Slater to OIA them.
  • That Cameron Slater and political strategist Simon Lusk blackmailed Rodney Hide into resigning as leader of the ACT party.
  • That Judith Collins, when she was Minister of Corrections, arranged to have a prisoner transferred at Cameron Slater’s request.
  • That Cameron Slater is paid around $6,500 per month from a tobacco lobbyist, Carrick Graham, to publish pro-tobacco, pro-alcohol attack posts. Those posts are written by Mr Graham, and are published under Slater’s by-line without attribution.

Yes, everyone knows that politics is a dirty business. Political parties dig for dirt on their opponents (remember Mike Williams’ flight to Australia to find non-existent dirt on John Key?). Nonetheless, if the allegations are correct, there’s some seriously disturbing stuff taking place on the ninth floor of the Beehive. It’s taking negative campaigning to a new level. It’s a systemic abuse of power.

How much of Hager’s claims are based on incontrovertible documentary evidence, and how much on tenuously joined dots remains to be seen. Matthew Hooton has come out this morning and labelled as flat-out wrong and a lie an allegation that he arranged for a liquor company to sponsor David Farrar and Slater.

It’s worth noting that Slater has responded to some of the allegations against him, in his post “The three biggest lies of Hager’s book“. Firstly, he disputes that Labour’s computer system was hacked (which I’ll discuss in a separate post), and secondly:

The second big lie is that PM and/or the PM’s office told me about Phil Goff’s briefing from the SIS. They did not.  

I wrote my own OIA and boy did I get pressure to pull my OIA. Pressure came from very senior people to actually withdraw my OIA, very serious pressure…mostly by phone. I was told it wouldn’t do the Nats any favours.

I resisted that and basically told them to piss off, I was entitled to ask an OIA and I did, proving that Phil Goff lied about his briefing.

I’ll be interested to read Hager’s evidence to the contrary.

Certainly, I’m amused that thus far there’s no denial from Slater that he takes money from a tobacco lobbyist to run PR attack lines. As Mr Slater is fond of saying, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant”. Indeed…

But will the current furore result in any change in the polls? It’s hard to say. If John Key can distance himself from everything, there may not be much of an impact. Broadcasters such as Sean Plunket and Mike Hosking are busily running the line that there’s nothing to see here that no one didn’t already know. 

“Nicky Hager taking the moral high ground is nauseating.”

That’s a text message I received this morning from a swing voter. They’re not going to read Dirty Politics, and they undoubtedly assume that whatever National is alleged to have done, Labour will also have done. They just don’t care, and that’s a depressing thought…

Internet Mana – killing the Left’s hopes of victory?

The Internet Mana Party has released video footage of its supporters chanting “Fuck John Key” at a Christchurch rally. Which immediately resulted in Twitter being Godwinned, as Matthew Hooton compared the footage to a Hitler rally:

Feels a bit like a Munich Beer Hall in the 1920s.

While Mr Hooton may have been putting on a show of overly-righteous indignation, the footage was certainly in terrible taste, and raises some thorny issues for the Left.

It remains to be seen what the effect of the footage is on the Internet Mana Party. It’s certainly a little hard for Laila Harre to remain on her high moral horse regarding John Key’s “sugar daddy” comment, when her party’s supporters are being incited to yell “Fuck John Key” at each stop on the Party Party roadshow. Sure, Ms Harre says it was “spontaneous”, but there been allegations  made by callers to Radio Live this afternoon that the chant was in fact started by paid Internet Party staffers in the audience, and that the same chant “spontaneously” occurred in Wellington too. If those allegations are borne out (and they’re only allegations at this stage), then that paints a rather nasty picture of the Internet Mana Party organisation.

However, Internet Mana isn’t trying to get mainstream votes. They’re after the disaffected Left, who don’t feel that Labour or even the Greens have anything to offer them. In reality, the Internet Mana policy platform is really just a mixture of the Green Party manifesto with some old school Alliance Party socialism thrown in, courtesy of Ms Harre. The party’s policy platform isn’t what’s winning it support – the support flows from Dotcom and Harawira’s anti-authority rhetoric. Having the party stick both middle fingers up at the Prime Minister with a “Fuck John Key” chant might just lure a few more of those voters towards Internet Mana. Whether those voters actually reach the ballot box is perhaps another story.

The next question is what effect the footage will have on the Left as a whole. It’s been posited by various political commentators that Labour has been losing votes to National due to the level of unease swing voters have towards the Internet Mana Party. The theory goes that the Greens and Internet Mana are picking up a couple of percent from the disaffected Left who sat out 2008 and 2011, but that Labour is then bleeding votes to the Right due to Middle New Zealand’s fear and loathing of Kim Dotcom and Hone Harawira. Faced with the choice of a Left-bloc coalition and a Right-bloc coalition, voters see the Right-bloc minor party allies as known quantities, whereas no one knows what in the hell Internet Mana is supposed to be.

If the theory is correct, the “fuck John Key” footage will make Internet Mana even more of an anathema to mainstream swing voters. With Labour, on current polling, requiring Internet Mana if it’s going to have even a hope of forming a Government, it’s just one more reason for swing voters to continue to stay away from Labour.

On the other hand, the whole thing might just be forgotten by tomorrow, as voters find other rather more important things to turn their minds to. We’ll see how much manufactured horror Matthew Hooton can conjure up…

Leaking like a sieve

Further to the leaked Labour Party emails relating to Kelvin Davis’ Te Tai Tokerau battle with Hone Harawira, you’ve got to wonder just who’s done the leaking, and why?

It’s either someone from Kelvin Davis’ campaign team or it’s someone from Labour HQ, and the motivations that each camp might have had are rather different.

If it’s Camp Davis, you’d have to presume that they were expecting to lose if they simply adopted a steady-as-she-goes campaign strategy based on party billboards, public meetings and press releases. You’d also have to presume that Labour’s current polling is scaring the hell out of them. As I pointed out in my previous post, Kelvin Davis is in the danger zone, based on Labour’s current average polling. And things get worse for him if NZ First make it over 5% and take two Labour list seats.

Camp Davis knows that the only ways Harawira is losing Te Tai Tokerau is if a) the Maori Party instructs it’s supporters to vote for Davis, or b) enough Harawira supporters begin to really dislike the Internet Mana deal. Given that the Maori Party continues to pretend that it can win all seven Maori seats, that leaves just Option B. And Option B requires a negative campaign – an unrelenting assault on Dotcom and Harawira.

Unfortunately for Camp Davis, it’s rather obvious that a negative campaign against Dotcom is, as Tim Barnett pointed out to Davis’ team, somewhat at odds with Labour’s “Vote Positive” slogan. Therefore, if Camp Davis leaked the emails, they’re hoping to stoke the anti-Dotcom/Harawira message through the media, keeping the spotlight on Mr Davis as the Defender of Democracy.

There have been all sorts of accusations regarding Labour candidates turning their backs on a coordinated party vote campaign, in favour of focusing purely on winning their own seats. If the leak has come from Camp Davis, then this is a doozy of an example, flying in the face of Labour’s central campaign message.

If the leak came from Labour’s HQ, then who knows what the motivation might have been. Was it someone who disagrees with the decision to rein Davis in? Was it someone who simply relished the chance to put another spanner in David Cunliffe’s spokes? Whatever the reason, it’s yet another example for the public that Labour remains a divided party, working at cross-purposes to itself.

And just check out this comment from Matthew Hooton at The Dim-Post:

A series of emails, including this one, was leaked to me last week from within the Labour Party. I wrote about it on Friday in the NBR but I think Labour HQ then issued this one to the Herald, which had a story in Saturday’s paper. Others have HQ advocating fund-raising through third parties.

Whoever leaked those emails really, really wanted them blazed all over the media…

Where to now for Colin and the Conservatives?

It’s (almost*) official – there’s no deal for Colin Craig in East Coast Bays. Murray McCully will not be knifed, thrown under a bus or given concrete shoes to go swimming in. Given that Mr Craig had already accepted he couldn’t win if Mr McCully stood against him, I think we can safely say that the odds of an electoral seat victory for the Conservatives are about nil.

(Mr Craig will undoubtedly have done exhaustive polling in the seat, and his polling has evidently given him nothing to trumpet to the media. Although, given Mr Craig’s polling apparently put him on course to win the Rodney electorate last election, which of course he lost by a landslide, any polling announcements showing him on course to win anything would likely have to be treated with a healthy fistful of salt.)

Matthew Hooton has discussed on several occasions National’s internal polling on the likely impact of the Conservatives, which showed that National will lose at least 2% if it did a deal with Colin Craig in East Coast Bays. Essentially, the Conservatives needed to be polling above 3% to make a deal worthwhile, and the simple fact is that they haven’t come close. They’ve made 2.8% and 2.7% in the last two TV3 Reid Research polls. However, of the last dozen major polls released, the only time they’ve been above 2% is in those two Reid Research polls. The remainder of the polls have had them between 0.9% and 1.7%. In this site’s Poll of Polls they’re currently sitting on 1.5%.

National has looked at the polling and decided that a deal simply isn’t worth it.

With the door closed on an electorate, that leaves just one alternative – to make a desperate last-minute dash for the 5% threshold. Given their current polling, it’s highly unlikely they’ll make it.

For a start, prospective small-c conservative voters who might have considered throwing in their lot with Colin Craig have now been sent a signal by National that their vote will be wasted. Those voters are now far more likely to go to National or NZ First. It’s in National’s best interests to now squash the Conservative Party vote – the lower the Conservatives go, the less wasted vote for National to worry about.

When Matthew Hooton appeared as a guest speaker at the recent Conservative Party conference, he told them they needed to be bolder – to embrace the God vote and to look at more extreme policy platforms such as bringing back the death penalty. Given that Mr Craig has already ruled out supporting the death penalty on TV3s The Nation, going for the God vote is probably the Conservatives’ only hope now. Colin Craig has gone head-to-head with Winston Peters and it’s got him nowhere. Mr Peters is very good at being Mr Peters; Colin Craig comes off as a pale imitation.

Regardless of where Colin Craig tacks, policy- and image-wise, it’s fairly safe to say that Mr Craig can kiss his three years worth of investment in his party goodbye. If the party gets no higher than it did at the last election, or even sinks below its 2011 vote, one wonders whether Mr Craig will bother looking to 2017.

* Although John Key has said he won’t pull Murray McCully from East Coast Bays, technically there’s still room for a reversal on that position right up until 26 August when nominations close. Of course, for Mr Key to perform an about-face, something catastrophically wrong would have had to happen to National’s polling, given how desperate such an about-face would look.

Winston Peters & East Coast Bays – National’s nightmare scenario

Back in June, I noted Matthew Hooton’s comment on Radio NZ’s Nine to Noon programme that National were expecting an electorate deal with Colin Craig in East Coast Bays to cost them about 2% to 3% of the party vote. The Conservatives would therefore have to be polling 3% to 4% for an electorate deal to be worthwhile to National.

At the time, I presumed that Mr Hooton had seen some of National’s internal polling. Well, at the Conservatives’ party conference this weekend, Mr Hooton was a guest speaker, and confirmed exactly that:

He cited internal polls which predicted that National would lose 2 per cent of the party vote if it pulled Mr McCully from the East Coast Bays contest.

On this basis, he said Conservatives would need to be pulling at least 3 per cent for Mr Key to consider a deal.

Back in June, the Conservatives were sitting on just 1.4% in this site’s Poll of Polls. Fast forward almost a month, and they haven’t moved, still sitting on 1.4%, well below the point where National needs them to be.

It’s was a conundrum then for National, and it’s just gotten worse, with Winston Peters announcing at the NZ First conference that’s he’s considering standing in East Coast Bays himself if National pull Murray McCully.

The nightmare scenario for National is that the party pulls Murray McCully to give Colin Craig a free run, Winston Peters does indeed put his hat into the electorate’s ring, and that enough people hate Colin Craig and/or electorate deals to give Peters their protest vote. Peters wins East Coast Bays, the Conservatives’ party vote is wasted, and National is reliant on a truculent Peters to form a government.

From Peters’ point of view, it’s a publicity masterstroke. Right up until 26 August, when nominations close, he’ll be able to drop hints and dance around the issue, courting the attention and hogging the headlines.

Frankly, I’d be surprised though if he did stand in East Coast Bays. He’d have to devote too much attention to the electorate, which would impact on NZ First’s nation-wide party vote campaign. We had the same dance routine last election, when he “considered” standing in John Key’s Helensville electorate, which of course never transpired.

The problem for National is that there’s still that nagging possibility that Peters might just be serious. National knows Colin Craig isn’t popular – that’s the entire reason why they’d have to knife Murray McCully. If Peters did decide to stand in East Coast Bays, there’s a significant risk to National that he might just take the seat.

National will undoubtedly have already spent a lot of money polling the good people of East Coast Bays. They might now need to run a few additional polls with some rather different new questions…

The Colin Craig conundrum

On Monday, Matthew Hooton made an interesting statement on Radio NZ’s Nine to Noon weekly political punditry segment. Mr Hooton noted that National were expecting that an electorate deal with Colin Craig would cost National 2% to 3% of the party vote. To make the electoral maths work for National, they would therefore need the Conservative Party to be picking up 3% to 4% of the vote.

Presumably, National’s internal polling is showing that 2% to 3% of its voters would consider walking if the Conservatives were given a boost into Parliament. That’s not surprising. A significant chunk of National’s current support is relatively soft. Those supporters have no real allegiance to National – they might have voted for Labour during the primacy of Helen Clark, or might have occasionally flirted with the Greens, but consider the opposition too  much of a mess to switch back. However, a significant chunk of that soft vote might very well consider Colin Craig’s particular brand of crazy a leap too far.

That makes for interesting times in Camp National. If Mr Hooton’s comment is based on actual intel on National’s internal polling, a significant chunk of the right-wing vote is at risk. If National does a deal with Mr Craig, 2% to 3% of the right wing vote disappears; if no deal is done, the Conservatives’ party vote ends up being wasted, essentially re-allocated between the parties that do make it into Parliament.

So is an electoral deal worth it? To date, the Conservatives are not exactly lighting the political world on fire. In this site’s Poll of Polls they are currently sitting on just 1.4%. Of the last ten major polls released, they’ve ranged between 0.5% and 2.3%, getting 2% or above in just two of those polls. If National loses 2% to 3% by making a deal, there’s currently no gain for National and possibly a net right-bloc loss.

The Conservative vote may well rise if National gives a clear indication that a vote for the Conservatives is not a wasted vote. On the other hand, if National says no deal and declares war on the Conservatives, they may well keep the wasted vote down to the Conservative’s current one point something per cent.

National certainly have a conundrum on their hands.

Poll of Polls update – 17 June 2014

The latest Herald Digipoll has just been released, and it’s the fourth major poll in a row to show National governing alone. National drops slightly, but are still sitting on a comfortable 50.4%, while Labour can at least console itself that it’s gone up 1% to 30.5%, escaping the dreaded twenties. The Greens take a significant hit, down 2.4% to 10.7%. That gives National a significant 9.2% lead over a combined Labour/Greens bloc.

For the other minor parties, NZ First and the Conservatives stay steady on 3.6% and 1.5% respectively, quite some way below the 5% threshold. ACT falls 0.1% to 0.7%, nowhere close to getting a second MP, while United Future actually registers for once, sitting sadly on 0.1%.

This is the first major poll conducted entirely since the formation of the combined Internet Mana Party. They’re on 1.4%, enough to bring in Annette Sykes Laila Harre, but considering the huge publicity they’ve had, it’s hardly an inspiring result.

So how does the Poll of Polls look now?

National: 48.4% (+0.5%)

Labour: 30.3% (-0.3%)

Greens: 11.2% (-0.3%)

NZ First: 5.0% (nc)

Maori: 1.1 (-0.1%)

United Future: 0.1% (nc)

ACT: 0.7% (nc)

Internet Mana: 1.1% (nc)

Conservative: 1.5% (nc)

Based on those percentages, the parties are predicted to win the following number of seats:

National: 59 (nc)

Labour: 37 (nc)

Greens: 14 (nc)

NZ First: 6 (nc)

Maori: 1 (-1)

United Future: 1 (nc)

ACT: 1 (nc)

Internet Mana: 2 (+1)

Unfortunately for the Maori Party, they drop just enough that their second seat disappears, snared by the tiniest margin by Internet Mana.

With a one seat overhang, the centre-right bloc of National, United Future and ACT have a total of 61 seats, to make a governing majority.

For the centre-left, Labour, the Greens and Internet Mana have 53 seats, short of a majority by one seat, even with NZ First and the Maori Party.

Labour drop to a new low for the fourth Poll of Polls update in a row. Conversely, National is the highest they’ve been this year. That’s a set of trends that should be extremely worrying for the Labour party. The left-right gap may narrow (and even be in the left’s favour) in the occasional poll, but Labour’s poll ratings have simply remained stalled. The party hasn’t got above 32% in the last fourteen polls, and you have to go back seven polls to find a result where Labour got over 31.5%.

To put that in perspective, Matthew Hooton noted on Radio NZ’s Nine to Noon programme yesterday, with no dissension from Mike Williams, that if Labour drops below 31% on election day then Kelvin Davis doesn’t make it back in on his current caucus ranking. Given this Poll of Polls update puts Labour at 30.3%, Mr Davis currently has no incentive to let Hone Harawira win Te Tai Tokerau.

EDIT: Laila Harre would make it in as second Internet Mana MP, unless Annette Sykes wins Wairiki.